It’s the most wonderful time of the year! One of them, anyway. But we always look forward to the City of Jesolo Trophy because even though it’s not always the first look at the Americans in a new elite season, it’s the first competition that features both senior and juniors competing in a team and individual environment alongside other top nations, which is always super fun.
This year is even better than ever, because it’s Russia’s first time back for this meet after several years of turning down invitations, and they’re bringing with them a full preview of their senior Euros team. The nominative Russian Euros roster and the senior Jesolo team features 2016 Olympians Angelina Melnikova and Daria Spiridonova, first-year senior and 2017 national all-around silver medalist Elena Eremina, and Natalia Kapitonova, the 2016 Olympic alternate who won the national all-around title in Kazan earlier this month.
We didn’t get to see anything from the Russians in training, but I don’t think a Russian training session ever indicates how they’ll do in a performance. Whereas the U.S. arrived a few days ago and has been training in the arena regularly, Russia casually rolled up yesterday and got their first training sessions in today, where I heard there were some bars falls, but that doesn’t really mean much going into the meet. We’ve seen all four compete twice this month, so we more or less know what to expect…which is to say that we don’t really know what to expect at all.
Melnikova got off to a rough start at nationals, but seemed to clean up a lot by Stuttgart, where she won silver with a fall. Kapitonova has been just about as consistent as any Russian has been in recent years, though her difficulty — bars aside — isn’t really enough to put her at the top of the podium here unless everyone else has major mistakes. Eremina is coming in with big skills but also wants to make up for some issues at both nationals and the DTB Team Challenge, while Spiridonova is mostly here for bars, though she’ll probably compete all four events because why not?
The Russian women will face a U.S. team featuring mostly new seniors, including recent Stuttgart World Cup bronze medalist Morgan Hurd, Riley McCusker (who placed fifth at this year’s American Cup), and Alyona Shchennikova alongside Abby Paulson, who placed 19th at U.S. nationals as a first-year senior in 2016.
The U.S. contingent also has first-year seniors Victoria Nguyen and Trinity Thomas competing with 2016 Olympic alternate Ashton Locklear in a mixed group that also includes Sara Berardinelli, a first-year senior from Italy.
I was actually surprised to see Paulson make it on the actual team over someone like Thomas, Locklear, or Nguyen, though I get Locklear not getting a spot considering she’s only competing two events. Then I watched some training videos, and Paulson looks pretty solid. She actually reminds me of Aly Raisman, in a way. Maybe it’s the hop change to double front on bars or her attack on beam — she has an excellent punch front and side aerial loso loso — but there’s a quality to her gymnastics that is very Raismanesque, despite her being a bit weaker on vault and floor. She won’t be a standout, but if she hits, could be one of those solid “put her up anywhere if you need her” type of athletes the way Raisman was circa 2010 or 2011.
Shchennikova, also making her international debut, has a pretty solid DTY, and her bar routine is great, with a huge inbar full to Komova II to Tkachev to pak to Chow half series (like, damn girl). She’s also doing a stalder to inbar half to front giant half to wrap things up before her double layout dismount, but really, aside from her ever-present flexed feet on some skills, this is already a difficult 6.0 set, and it’s upgradeable.
On beam and floor, she’s not quite as strong, though she looked mostly solid in training, and should bring in decent scores to finish well in the all-around. In addition to landing one of the coveted Jesolo spots, she’s also serving as alternate for next week’s London World Cup, making her one of the top seniors in the country right now.
As for Hurd and McCusker, both looked great in training. Having seen both compete this season, we know what they can do, so this weekend will all be a matter of hitting. McCusker started out her season with that mental meltdown at the American Cup, and while Hurd looked mentally strong in Stuttgart, she did have two falls on her difficult beam set, so both have something to fight back from and redemption meets are always great to watch.
As for the non-team girls, Locklear is a little downgraded on bars, training a toe full to Chow to pak to Maloney to bail to Ray, toe half to straddle Jaeger, and a full-out dismount. Her inbars are gone, so she takes a bit of a hit, with her difficulty at 5.5 now, which would’ve been a 6.0 in last year’s code compared to her usual 6.5. It’ll be fun to see her go head to head with the Russians, especially as she meets up with Spirodnova again for the first time since Spiridonova edged her out for the bars bronze at worlds in 2014.
Her only other event, beam, didn’t look great in training, with more basic elements, wobbles, bent knees on acro, and the bane of my existence, back-to-back wolf turns. She did have a lovely tour jete half, though, and a promising — if not quite perfected — mixed series that includes a side aerial to switch leap to switch half to back tuck. There were a few little mistakes there in training, and her switch half was nowhere near 180, but aside from the Chinese she’s one of the only gymnasts I’ve seen begin to explore that new part of the code so far, so A+ to her (or, well, to her coaches who came up with it).
With no seniors coming into this season with two vaults, it’s nice to see Thomas try to bring a tsuk full into her repertoire to better help her worlds chances this year. On bars, she does a fab Weiler half to Maloney to clear hip full to Tkachev to pak series, all of which looked good, and she had a few strong elements on beam, though it’s not really a knockout set.
Floor is where it’s at for Thomas. She has a strong and dramatic new routine this year, complete with a double layout, 2½ through to double tuck, front layout to front double full, and a double pike before a statement-making ending pose, not quite like Simone Biles did, but the vibe is the same.
Finally, Nguyen, back in full force for the first time in exactly two years. We did get to see some bars and beam work from Nguyen at Classics last year, but it was the 2015 edition of Jesolo where she was last fully healthy, so it’s only fitting that she makes her big return in the same location. In addition to performing here, she’ll also represent the U.S. at the London World Cup next Saturday, so unlike McCusker and Hurd who had to kick off their seasons — and senior careers — in a major all-around meet, Nguyen gets to test her stuff out first in Italy, which could be a big help when she takes the stage in London.
Nguyen has a DTY that’s not quite there yet, though it’ll still outscore what she would earn with a full, and her floor isn’t super difficult, with a tucked full-in, triple full, and double tuck all coming up short in training, though her front double full was decent. On bars, her inbars are a little weak, but I like her inbar full to Maloney to Gienger series, and she’s also competing a layout Jaeger, though she had a slight hip pike in the training attempts I saw.
As always, her best event is beam, where she performs in that magical way we’ve come to expect from Chow’s girls. Nguyen opens with a solid bhs loso loso series, and then moves on to a lovely front aerial to ring jump, an awesome side aerial to back tuck, and a full Y turn to full pirouette, all excellent. If that’s not beam queen-y enough for you, she also whips out a switch leap to Onodi to sheep jump mixed series, and the rest of her set is simpler but tidy, finishing with a clean 2½ dismount. Of the U.S. seniors, this is probably my favorite routine, and she has a huge shot at the beam title in Jesolo this weekend.
Brazil could make things interesting in Jesolo. With 2016 Olympians Rebeca Andrade and Flavia Saraiva returning along with Olympic alternate Carolyne Pedro and first-year senior Thais Fidelis, this team is coming in super hot and super strong, and they actually have a shot at beating Russia, if everyone hits. Of course, it’s been months since we last saw any of them, and who knows how things are looking this early in the year, but this is one of Brazil’s most talented teams across the board in a very long time, so I’m excited to see if they can live up to my incredibly high expectations of them (no pressure).
The Italian team is made up mostly of younger kids, either girls who turned 16 last year but weren’t quite ready to challenge for Olympic spots like Giada Grisetti and Desiree Carofiglio, or girls turning senior this year, like Francesca Linari and Martina Maggio. All but Maggio are expected to compete at Euros next month, so this will be a bit of a practice meet for them, though I doubt any will be big medal contenders in Cluj.
Grisetti’s bars are perhaps the biggest must-watch of this team, with the rest good but not standouts on any event, though Maggio could end up strong in the all-around. I mentioned Berardinelli earlier, rotating with the U.S. non-team girls, and we’ll also see a few other non-team Italians, including new senior Caterina Cereghetti in the all-around, 2016 Olympic alternate Lara Mori on bars, and queen of the DTY Sofia Busato on vault.
France sends a similarly young team, headlined by 2016 Olympic beam finalist Marine Boyer and also featuring 2017 American Cup bronze medalist Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, Juliette Bossu, and first-year senior Lorette Charpy. Boyer and De Jesus Dos Santos are definitely the strongest in this bunch, though Charpy was looking solid aside from a glitch on beam at a meet in France a couple of weeks ago, so I think she could also be one to watch.
We got to see a ton of Canadian seniors between Elite Canada and Gymnix, and the powers that be have narrowed the group down to the four who will best represent the country abroad. Those four include 2016 Olympian Shallon Olsen, who is bound to impress with her DTY and Khorkina vaults and huge tumbling on floor, 2015 worlds team member Audrey Rousseau, who has some beautiful tumbling of her own, and new seniors Jade Chrobok and Brooklyn Moors rounding them out. Chrobok is a solid all-arounder with a strong ability on all four of her events, while Moors is a standout on beam and floor, with unimaginably beautiful routines on both.
Finally, we get to the Belgians, Nina Derwael and Senna Deriks. Without a full team, the focus for these two will be preparing for next month’s Euros, where the 2016 Olympians will hope to make the all-around and bars final. The two are fabulous on that event, both having breached the 14.0 mark already this season at a meet in France, and I expect they’ll improve on those scores with hit routines here. Deriks is showing an inbar to Komova II to pak, Maloney to stalder full to huge Tkachev, and a full-in while Derwael has her brand-new Ricna half to Ezhova in addition to a Downie, Chow to pak, van Leeuwen, and full-in.
Unfortunately, Axelle Klinckaert — who injured her knee and was forced to miss the 2016 Olympics — will not be competing, though she was on hand for a dance-through in training, competing a fabulous and fun new routine that I can’t wait to see her throw in front of a crowd. It’ll be a killer, and I’m longing for the day when she’s healthy enough to compete again because she’s a national treasure.
While the seniors are the big names in Jesolo, I think the best competition of the meet will be seeing the U.S. juniors face off once again with the Italians. All four of Italy’s top 2003-born girls from Gymnix will be back, including Giorgia Villa, the D’Amato twins Asia and Alice, and bars queen Elisa Iorio. They’ll go up against three of their U.S. Gymnix competitors — Maile O’Keefe, Gabby Perea, and Emma Malabuyo — and while I think the Americans will pull it off thanks to their big routines on beam and floor, Italy beat the U.S. on both vault and bars in Montreal earlier this month, so if the U.S. has mistakes, there could be another close margin.
We’ll also get two U.S. junior international debuts this weekend. Olivia Dunne and Adeline Kenlin were both added to the national team following the Jesolo selection camp, and will gain big experience here as they go into their final season as juniors. Dunne, who is competing as an individual, is stunning to watch on beam and floor, with an unmatched style and grace, while Kenlin, who is on the team, has been doing killer beam difficulty since age 11, so she’ll hope to show she can compete alongside the best in her first big outing.
The biggest junior name to watch outside of this bunch is Ana Padurariu of Canada. This year’s Elite Canada champion, Padurariu made some mistakes at Gymnix that kept her out of the running for a medal, but on a good day she’ll be right up there with the Americans and Italians, and can also challenge for a medal on bars and beam. In Jesolo, she’ll be joined by teammate Victoria Jurca (watch out for her vaults) and newcomers Zoe Allaire-Bourgie (she has a beautiful beam!) and Jaden Gorsline (consistent across the board).
Varvara Zubova and her brilliant beam will be a highlight for the Russian junior squad, which also features Ksenia Klimenko, Valeria Saifulina, and Anastasia Agafonova. Top junior Angelina Simakova was expected to attend, but as it turns out, she will not end up competing.
Rounding out the junior field, the French squad is led by Celia Serber and will also feature Carolann Heduit, Sheyen Petit, and Julia Forestier, and we’ll also get a million more Italian juniors, including a second team (Benedetta Ciammarughi, Martina Basile, Sydney Saturnino, and Matilde De Tullio), a youth team (Alessia Federici, Simona Marinelli, Camilla Campagnaro, and Giulia Cotroneo), and a hopes team (Serena Napolitano, Veronica Mandriota, and Marta Morabito).
The competition begins tomorrow at 10:30 am local time (that’s 4:30 am ET for those of you too lazy to google) with the junior team and all-around finals, and the senior team and all-around competition will be held at 4 pm local, 10 am ET. On Sunday, event finals will be held at 3 pm/9 am.
We’ll be live blogging the competition as it happens, so check back with us bright and early tomorrow to follow the action.
Article by Lauren Hopkins